Republicans have made a choice: they have decided that their spokespeople need not be coherent and literate, let alone wise and expert. Having made that choice, they should have to live with it. Most of the time, it is altogether unclear what any given Republican is saying, and that is likely because, most of the time, Republicans don’t know what they’re trying to say. Disjointed syntax is not a disease; it’s a symptom — a symptom of disjointed thinking.
Right-wing babble, or what some have come to call Republican “word salad,” began in earnest with Ronald Reagan, whose unrehearsed musings often divorced predicates from their subjects. Reagan was as inelegant without a teleprompter as he was elegant with one. It was during Reagan’s tenure that conservatives began to abandon any pretense of intellectualism; the party of William F. Buckley had anointed as its philosopher king an elderly simpleton addled by senility and dementia.
But by today’s Republican standards, Reagan was a wordsmith possessed of almost unimaginable clarity of mind. George W. Bush didn’t just divorce predicates from their subjects; his “sentences” often lacked either one altogether. By the time Republicans introduced us to Sarah Palin, it had become acceptable in right-wing circles to string unrelated nouns together in miles-long chains of incoherence.
More recently, conservatives have gifted us Kevin McCarthy, who invented the word “untrustable,” and Ben Carson, who can speak for hours at a time without expressing a single cogent thought. In the crowded teabagging race toward imbecility, Jeb Bush is no slouch either. Why, just today, he said that anyone who blamed his brother for the terrorist attacks that happened while he was in charge of making sure they didn’t happen was — wait for it — “totally marginalizing our society.” Whatever the fuck that means.
The media has long had a habit of saving conservatives from themselves by misquoting them as having said what reporters thought they must have meant to say, but didn’t. Take today’s example. In a Huffpost piece today, Amanda Terkel quoted what Jeb Bush said during a recent Republican debate:
“As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: He kept is safe,” Jeb Bush said during last month’s debate. “I don’t know if you remember, Donald — you remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around him? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism, and he did keep us safe.”
Right, except that’s not what he said. Here is what he did say:
That’s right: he said, “Remember the rubble? Remember the firefighter with his arms around it?” (He didn’t say “arms around him”; he said “arms around it.”) This was a mangled thought, to be sure: what did Bush mean by “arms around it”? Arms around what? The rubble? What was he talking about?
Terkel, instead of quoting what Bush actually said and thereby making him sound like the rube he is, did him the favor of fixing his quote by reorganizing his thinking. The sentence would only make sense, she thought, if Bush meant that a firefighter had embraced George W. Bush, not that he was embracing … the rubble. But that’s not what Bush said, and we shouldn’t be guessing about what might have been meant by a fumbling idiot who probably didn’t know what he was trying to say in the first place.
More importantly, the media must not portray the intellectual sloppiness of a dolt as the polished thought of an elegant mind by reordering and inaccurately quoting the words that escape his mouth. Reporters must be disciplined in precisely quoting the undisciplined imprecision of Republican language.